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IN NUMBERS: How do work permit waiting times compare in the Nordic countries?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
IN NUMBERS: How do work permit waiting times compare in the Nordic countries?
An employee opens u a server at Facebook's data centre in Luleå Sweden. High tech industries in Scandinavia require a lot of foreign labour. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

The long processing times for work permits for foreign workers is a big issue in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. We look at which Scandinavian country has the worst problem, and what, if anything, is being done about it.


The Swedish Migration Agency, Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI), and Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) all use different ways of measuring processing times, making it difficult to make a direct comparison, but it seems fairly clear that Sweden has the longest delays of the three countries. 

Elin Harrysson, a senior manager working on immigration for professional services firm EY in Sweden, said that this was already putting Sweden at a competitive disadvantage compared to the other Nordics.

"We have had clients recently who have said, 'OK, we will post them in Denmark, and then they can work from there while we initiate a process for a Swedish work permit', or they say, 'we'll put them in Norway or Denmark, and then they can fly in for meetings'. I've had a lot of clients that have been very hesitant to bring staff into Sweden." 


The official figures for 2022

In Denmark, the median time for work permit cases in 2022 was 21 days, while the average was 44 days, according to numbers supplied by Siri to The Local. 

In Sweden, the median time for processing a first-time work permit application in 2022 was 52 days, while the average was 116 days, figures provided by the Migration Agency show.

In Norway, the median time for work permit cases in 2022 (excluding seasonal workers, appeals and withdrawals) was 63 days, while the average was 87 days.

What do the companies say? 

EY, which helps carry out thousands of work permit applications for its clients every year, currently expects the agency to take about four months (122 days) to process a first time application in Sweden, even for companies on the fast track certified scheme, compared to as few as ten days in Denmark. 

In Norway, which does not have a fast track scheme, it is also currently taking about four months (122 days) to get a work permit, the firm's local office said, pointing to the guidelines on the UDI's website.

In Denmark, in contrast, visa-exempt nationals from countries like the UK, US and Australia can receive a provisional work permit on the day they arrive in the country, meaning they can start work immediately. 

"Once their application has been filed, they can travel to Denmark on their passport, have their biometric features recorded in Denmark, and receive a provisional work permit on the spot, allowing immediate work start," EY's country manager for global immigration, Rikke Wolfsen, told The Local.

They can then expect a final work permit within 30 days. 

Even employees from countries requiring a visa can apply for 'speed processing', with permits issued without about 10 days.


Outside the fast track

Outside the fast track scheme, the situation in Sweden is even worse, with EY saying that it is now taking nine months (273 days) for a first application.

Work permit extensions, meanwhile are taking six months (183 days), for people to be employed by certified companies, and as long as 16 months (487 days) for other applicants. 

In Denmark, the ordinary processing time if the employer is not certified is approximately 30 days, although it can sometimes take as long as 60 days.

Country-by-country breakdown


As well as publishing median and mean figures for 2022 as a whole, Sweden's Migration Agency also publishes figures on its website for the time it takes for 75 percent of work permits to be processed, breaking the numbers down by whether it is a first-time application or an extension, an ordinary job, or a role in an industry deemed as being at a high risk of work permit abuse.  

If you are a self-employed person from a non-EU country applying for a work permit, the agency says it processes 75 percent of cases in 28 months, or 850 days. 

READ ALSO: The migration paradigm shift we need isn’t the one we’re getting


A report by the Swedish Games Industry and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth warned last month that these slow processing times were threatening whole industries. 

"The processing times are so long and the permit times so short that the [Migration Agency] can’t keep up. (…) If the current situation is not resolved, Sweden’s entire image is threatened and it will be harder for companies to recruit staff to the country,” they wrote. 

The Migration Agency says that the delays have come about because they are receiving more work permit applications than ever before, with about 100,000 outstanding applications in December, according to an interview posted on the agency's LinkedIn page.



According to SIRI, processing times for work permits awarded in Denmark in December 2022, were 76 days for permits awarded under the Pay Limit Scheme, 62 days for the positive list for highly skilled or highly educated people, 39 days for the positive list for unionised jobs, and just 22 days for people on the Fast Track scheme. 

Denmark managed to improve its already superior performance in the latest official figures from December, but with companies in the country struggling to find skilled workers to fill positions, pressure is on to simplify the system.

The number of unfilled positions hit a record in in the middle of last year, with 71,000 unfilled positions, pushing business leaders to lobby governments hard to lower the thresholds to bring foreign employees to the country. 

“We will need many more foreigners,” Lars Sandahl Sørensen, managing director of the Confederation of Danish Industry said ahead of the November 2022 election. “This is not about getting cheap labour, but about getting people at all." 

It's worth pointing out that while Denmark is better at processing applications for highly skilled, highly educated and highly paid employees, its work permit system is currently much more restrictive, making it hard for companies to recruit lower paid or less skilled workers internationally. 



Norway's UDI puts down slow processing times to the introduction of dual citizenship last year, which led to a surge in citizenship applications, as well as the backlog from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"Work with entry restrictions required a lot of resources and both the UDI's and the police's work was affected in different ways by the corona situation," Karl Erik Sjøholt, the directorate's director of residence, told The Local.

"An important factor was also the opening for dual citizenship from January 2020, which resulted in a large increase in the number of citizenship applications," he said.

As in Denmark, businesses are struggling, with a record 107,800 unfilled positions in the middle of 2022. 

What are the different countries doing about it? 

Sweden's new immigration minister, Maria Malmer Stenergard, said in December her government wanted to speed up processing times.  

"We want to focus on the highly skilled workforce coming to Sweden, and improve the rules to make handling times shorter,” she said in an interview. “We know that is a great problem for those who apply for work permits and also for those who apply for a prolongation of work permits. We are set on improving the rules so that it will be more attractive to come to Sweden.”

The Migration Agency launched a kraftsamling, or special focus on reducing waiting times in December, with Mikael Ribbenvik, the Migration Agency's Director General, holding a workshop for 70 members of the work permit team, looking at what could be done to speed up processing times. 

The agency is trying to recruit and train more case officers to deal with work permits, and is pushing ahead with its long-delayed digitalisation programme, which allows more and more parts of applications to be automatically assessed.

It is also looking at how to simplify the process, and asking case officers to reserve detailed checks of applications for those from industries or countries associated with a high risk of abuse. 


In Norway, UDI has changed the way it handles cases to shorten waiting times at the start of 2022. While this has improved the situation for many applicants, it has also meant that some of the more complex applications submitted before the start of 2022 have taken even longer to process. 

"Most applicants had a shorter waiting time in 2022 than in previous years, but some applicants that applied before January 1st 2022 got prolonged waiting times," a UDI spokesperson told The Local last week. "UDI is aware that some applicants from before 2022 have had to wait longer, but we have completed a large part of these cases, and most of the cases from before 2022 will be completed in the first half of 2023." 

The directorate hopes to clear up the backlog by the middle of 2023. 

In Denmark, the government is planning on reducing the minimum salary threshold for some work permits, which could lead to an increase in the number of applications, and as a result, perhaps, longer waiting times. 

Denmark's three big trade lobby groups, The Confederation of Danish Industry, The Confederation of Danish Employers, and the Danish Chamber of Commerce, are, meanwhile, calling for the process to be simplified, calling for the government to scrap a 2017 requirement that foreign employees' salaries need to be paid into a Danish bank account. 

Mohammad Rona, immigration spokesperson for Moderates, one of the three ruling parties, has called for an analysis of how work permit rules could be simplified.

"There are some rules in this country where logic does not prevail, unfortunately," he told the Politiken newspaper. "It is my opinion that we should have looked at, and potentially, tightened up rules that prevent good companies from keeping their good employees." 

The new Danish work permit reforms are expected to be presented in a draft bill later this month. 

READ ALSO: What do we know about Denmark’s plans to relax work permit rules?


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